Categorize answers with tags

Maybe an idea for the new site (not MVP, but in the long run). To make finding solutions easier, one could think about adding something like tags to answers that describe for which software versions/operating systems an answer works or does not work.

When searching for a solution on stackoverflow, I often have the problem that there might be many different answers, but they might not all work for the particular software version/operating system/etc. that I have. So I usually test several ones until I find one that works for my setup.

As I’m probably not the only one doing this, how about preserving this information to save others from doing the same tests? User could add some tags to answers that says for which software versions/operating system the answer works and for which one it doesn’t.

See a quick mock-up in the image below

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In general I would like posters of code/software answers/solutions to include which OS, IDE, libraries, software build versions they used where they were able to solve the problem. Not make it required, but show a hint or an optional field like when you write up an email and you said “attached” but there are no attachments.

Proposing tags like when asking questions also feels like a useful idea, so you can just click a bunch of them real quick and make your answer easier to find or filter for.

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(Thinking out loud here.)

This same idea could work on a very different type of site too. On Mi Yodeya we often questions of the form “how are we supposed to understand such-and-such passage in our text”, and the question gets a lot of different answers, each elaborating on one or several sources. Often the asker never accepts an answer because it ends up being more of a survey (but it’s not “bad subjective”; it’s just that there’s a lot of info and nobody knows all of it).

There are, probably, a few dozen major sources that come into play a lot. It could be handy to be able to tag answers with them.

While I’m using Mi Yodeya as an example, I expect a similar pattern exists on other sites too.

I’m not arguing for the feature; I’m just pointing out that it’s not just technical sites and software versions.

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This sounds very costly for some limited benefits.

A vast majority of questions do not have so many answers that finding the needle among the haystack is an issue. The data says that, for example on Stack Overflow, 85.2% of questions have at most 2 answers, 99.1% have at most 6. So this feature would only be potentially useful for about 1% of questions. And of those, in many cases, the difference between answers is not about which subsets of the possible scenarios the answer applies to, but about different solutions, or different explanations.

In order for tags to be useful, tag names must be universal and accurate. To have useful tags, you need a tag ontology that people agree on and apply in practice. That tag ontology wouldn’t always align with question tags, so it would need its own curation.

In many cases, if there are so many answers, the real problem is that the question is too broad. If version 3 and version 4 of the software require different solutions to solve the same problem, then “how do I do X on version 3?” and “how do I do X on version 4?” are different questions. There is already a tool to manage multiple questions, which is to ask them as separate questions. If there are already both answers for version 3 and answers for version 4, the ideal resolution would be to move the version 4 answers to the newly asked version 4 question.

A well-delimied number of sources where the ideal answer would cover all of them is a better use case for answer tags. I can think of a similar case on language sites where an answer might be tagged with some dialects. In both cases, the tag ontology for answers would be a small subset of the question tag ontology. But does it really call for tags? How useful is it to search for answers with a given tag? Would a tag inclusion hierarchy be necessary?

Do you expect that the tags would be curated properly in practice? On language sites people don’t always mention which dialects they speak. Having tags might make more people mention it if the user interface pushes answerers towards putting tags. But if it does then many answerers would end up putting overly restrictive tags, because they don’t know what dialects the answer applies to beyond their own.

I see a lot of work to set up the infrastructure (the tag ontology), a lot of curation work on individual posts, and a lot of potential for misuse (conveying incorrect information), all for very limited benefits.

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This is exactly what is banned on sites like Christianity: allowing multiple contradictory scopes turns questions into voting contests.

For technology sites if it was strictly applied to different versions of a language then maybe it could work. It shouldn’t be allowed for different languages. Even for software I’d be inclined to say they should make new questions. And if an answer becomes outdated then a vote tag of “outdated” could be displayed if we went that way.

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For something as large as different languages I agree: write separate questions. They’re more discoverable, and answers are rarely just going to be about that one thing – other differences in the languages will come into play at least a little.

For something like different versions of a library, application, or maybe even language, the approach suggested here might work.

All that said, I think we could wait a while to address this (if we do at all). It’s an interesting idea for some situations but requires a lot more thought. It’s not MVP so I suggest deferring it.

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Answer tagging might be enabled or disabled per topic site. Also, if tag hierarchies are implemented, then one might restrict answer tags to subtags of the question tags (for example, if the question tag is [c++], the answer tag may be [c++11] or [c++14], but not [python]) and specific answer tags (like the suggested [outdated]).

Note that e.g. in code golf, allowing arbitrary language tags on answers would make sense (on the SE site, the language is stated in an answer title).

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